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The "Food-Family Connection": Letting Go at Last

continued...

I felt happy and fulfilled while I ate the food I loved. And then, naturally, I was miserable, hating myself for what I had done. See a pattern here? Food was feeding not only my need for close relationships but also my need -- oh, how it hurts to admit this! -- to feel sorry for myself.

To feel like a victim.

Do you ever feel afraid to lose your excess weight? I sure did. And no wonder: Losing the weight meant losing the one close relationship I could depend on to always be there and make me feel good. So even when I did achieve a substantial weight loss, I gained it back quickly, usually with a few more pounds for good measure.

I even remember sometimes feeling a sense of relief about regaining my weight, even as I despaired at seeing my body swell and become distorted with fat again. I wonder if that sounds familiar to you, too.

Well, that's how I lived, how I got through life, for so many years. Then, in therapy, two big changes happened:

1) I learned that I was a pretty nice person after all, someone other people would generally like if they had the chance. So I didn't have to put up "permanent" defenses like fat, humor at other people's expense, and isolating from others. I could relax and be myself, and most of the time things would be OK, just as they are for most people, most of the time.

2) I found within myself true loving feelings for my family, particularly for my mother and father, both now deceased. Most surprising was coming to love my mother, a beautiful and funny woman who apparently found it unnerving to have a bright, intuitive, and often rebellious child around. What did I see, or sense, that she didn't want others to know about? I don't know (although previously, in my role as "victim of the family," I thought I did). And it no longer matters. What matters is that almost certainly her harsh and unrelenting criticism of me was really directed at herself, not at me, a child who wasn't old enough to have done anyone any harm. Long before, her own family had unwittingly put that self-criticism into her head, and heart.

I understand now that my mother and father came to having children burdened with their own pain of unmet childhood needs -- and they lived in a time when professional help wasn't readily available as it is today. And so they passed their burdens along to me.

I also realize that as a mother, I burdened my own two daughters in similar ways. They're grown now, raising their own children -- my grandchildren. But by "giving back" my own emotional burden, and in the process becoming a more real and loving person, I'm very hopeful that their lives and relationships with their children will be stronger as well.

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